You put your head on your pillow to get a few extra minutes of sleep. You sit on the couch to watch your favorite show. You consider taking a walk or doing anything relaxing. And the thoughts inevitably start. The thoughts that shout allllll the different things you could and should be doing…folding the laundry that’s been in the dryer for at least a day. Or two. Or three. Washing the many mountains of dirty clothes. Paying such and such bill. Finally catching up on email. Organizing the sea of books and papers you’re currently drowning in. Mopping the floors. Making lunch. Doing something else. And something else.
Margarita Tartakovsky, I’m an associate editor at PsychCentral.com, an award–winning mental health website that’s been around since 1995! Honestly, it’s my dream job. I write all sorts of articles on mental health and psychology for our main blog, World of Psychology. I also pen two blogs on Psych Central—one on body image and the other on creativity. (You can learn more here.) Often I write the words I need to read. I write to let others know they’re not alone. You’re not alone in feeling alone. You’re not alone in feeling anxious. In having a really loud inner critic. In having a hard time navigating your grief. In having a hard time.
Editor: Arman Ahmed
Whether you actually keep sleeping or staying on the couch or doing some other relaxing or nourishing activity, the last thing you feel is at peace. The last thing you feel is cared for. Because the voice of the drill sergeant or tyrant is just so loud. And so convincing.
For me this voice has been around for many, many years. It has a way of stealing calm, particularly when I need calm most.
So how do we quiet this voice? How do we genuinely relax? How do we care for ourselves when there are so many other seemingly equally important tasks to complete?
Of course, there are no elixirs or quick fixes or magical secrets. Often I wish there were. But there are things that can help. Here are three ideas:
Reflect on why you practice. Why is it important for you to get X number of hours of sleep? Why is it important for you to relax? Why is it important to feed your soul? Why is self-care vital to you? Maybe self-care alleviates your anxiety. Maybe it helps you be kinder and a better listener. Maybe it helps you give more to others. Maybe self-care helps you be yourself.
In the book Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday Life, Renée Peterson Trudeau lists the different benefits of self-care, including: “We feel alive and whole, so we are able to function at our best and do all the things we want to do”; “We renew and restore our energy and create energy reserves so we’re able to weather unforeseen challenges more easily”; and “We own our personal power and begin to realize our potential; the more self-accepting we become, the more self-assured we are.” (I shared all the benefits in this post.)
After you identify why you practice self-care, write it down on a sticky note, or put it in your phone. Before you start practicing self-care—taking a walk, taking a yoga class, sleeping, napping, relaxing, saying no to a commitment (but feeling too afraid)—close your eyes, and call to mind your reasons. You can even recite these reasons every day, several times a day—whatever you need.
Address the guilt. Why do you feel guilty? Do you associate productivity with being good, with being worthy? Do you feel like you’re worthless when you’re not doing and going? Do you think everything will fall apart if you stay still? Did you grow up in a family that praised and prioritized work (whether housework or career)? What does your inner drill sergeant or tyrant say? What is it trying to protect you from?
Then consider how you can address your guilt directly. How can you work through it? Maybe working through your guilt means listening to it by journaling about it. Maybe it means working with a therapist or attending support groups (like Al-Anon), because you’re realizing that there’s a lot of stuff buried beneath the guilt. Maybe it means talking about your guilt with your partner or best friend.
Create mini self-care routines. What’s great about routines is that you don’t need to think about them. They’re automatic. Which means there’s no time or chance to feel guilty. You simply act. You simply do. And that’s that.
For instance, every morning, you might set a timer for 5 minutes to journal or read from an important-to-you book. You also might keep a delicious smelling candle and bottle of water on your nightstand. This way everything you need to start the day with a bit of nourishment is already conveniently there. Again, you don’t need to contemplate doing it. You don’t need to get anything ready. You simply act. You simply do. Sure, it isn’t always that simple. But it’s certainly a good start.
What mini self-care routine can you create? What routine do you really need? What will nourish you?
We may not be able to banish our guilt. But we can work with it. We can work through it. And all the while we can care for ourselves. And, after all, isn’t working through our guilt just another way of practicing compassionate self-care?